Americans Already Taking Action Against Climate Change

It’s a new year, and everyone is still feverishly committed to their New Year’s resolutions. After all, January is the time for reinventing oneself, committing to self-improvement, and setting new goals. I love when New Year’s comes around because I enjoy thinking about all of the possibilities that a new year brings.

It is in that spirit that I thought January the perfect time to share a recent study done by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. I’ve shared their work before, telling you how Americans really do want more renewable energy. But that is not the only subject they’ve studied – the two schools continue to poll American citizens on their viewpoints, their habits, their goals, and their ideas for improvement when it comes to climate change. This information is powerful, and I can only hope it gets put to good use.

So what is this research duo up to now? About a month ago, they released a joint report on “Americans’ Actions to Limit Global Warming in September 2012.” The study looks at the actions of Americans to reduce their energy consumption over the course of one month, thus lowering their carbon footprint by reducing the amount of emissions produced by electricity generated on their behalf. It also looks at “green” consumer, citizen, and communication behaviors.

So what are the highlights of the study?

  • 53% of Americans “always” or “often” set their thermostat no higher than 68°F in the winter. (I must be part polar bear – I set mine to 62°F!)
  • 57% of Americans report that all or most of the bulbs in their homes are CFL bulbs (compact fluorescent light bulbs, which are exponentially more energy efficient and longer-lasting than incandescent bulbs).
  • 60% of those polled believe that if everyone in the United States took similar energy-saving actions it would reduce global warming (I happen to agree) – but this figure is down from 78% in 2008!
  • 32% believe their individual actions to save energy will reduce their contribution to global warming – but this figure is also down from the 2008 figure of 48%.
  • 52% of Americans say they have or intend to reward or punish companies for their action or inaction to reduce global warming (consumer feedback is very powerful, which I brought up last year in talking about voting with your wallet).

So, not only do Americans want to take action against climate change – they ARE taking action. Which is great! Companies and government officials may be dragging their feet, but individuals are willing to take steps to reduce energy demand now. Power to the people, right?

But unfortunately it looks as though Americans’ faith in the power of the individual to impact climate change has been decreasing over the last four years. Why? Perhaps people are disheartened by the devastating extreme weather events of 2012 despite their climate-friendly actions? Perhaps the sensationalist coverage perpetuated by the media has scared people into thinking it is too late to take action? It’s hard to pin down the exact reason for this decrease in confidence, but perhaps a new year will bring with it renewed confidence! One can hope so. But more importantly, perhaps this waning confidence in the power of the individual will convince us that we have to work together to effect change at the national – not just the individual – level. And that requires voicing your concerns to your representatives in Congress, supporting environmental groups that lobby for stricter regulations, and supporting the renewable energy industry.

In the meantime, individual action can still create significant progress, and we can see that Americans are willing to take those actions. People have clearly responded by making the changes they’ve been instructed to make by environmental organizations or public serve announcements (e.g. lowering the thermostat and switching to energy efficient light bulbs). So, organizations must continue to present new ways for individuals to change their habits that can make a difference in energy demand. Perhaps if we were to create such action plans for companies and governments we could even expect to see these results reproduced on a larger scale? Food for thought!

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